Fake news circular: Did Smriti Irani lie in Parliament? (Read Document)
On March 3, She Told Parliament That There Was No Proposal To Regulate Fake News.
Member of Parliament of the AIADMK, A. Vijayakumar, asked the government in early March 2018 whether it had any proposal to constitute a set up for controlling fake news and paid news and whether the government intended to hand over the controlling mechanism to Press Council of India?
Smriti Irani’s reply (laid on the Table of the House on March 3) was concise: “Presently there is no such proposal.”
Nine days later, her junior minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, in a reply to TMC MP Derek O Brien’s question as to whether the government planned to draft a policy regarding guidelines to detect fake news, told Parliament: “Instances of circulation of fake news on social media, print media and private TV channels come to the notice of Government from time to time.”
Rathore’s long-winded reply went on to cite the Press Council of India, News Broadcasting Standards Authority of the News Broadcasters Association and the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation as organisations that are equipped to deal with the menace of fake news.
Two days earlier, on March 7, Electronics And Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was also asked if the government kept a score of people booked in isolated incidents in different states for circulation of fake news on social media and whether the government planned a new policy to check circulation of fake news via digital and social media.
His reply: “The government does not maintain specific information with regard to people booked in isolated incidents if any in different States for circulation of fake news on messaging and social media platforms. (And) no (the government is not planning a new social media policy). There are existing legal provisions under Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 to regulate misuse of social media.”
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s ill-fated circular that threatened to cancel the accreditation of journalists permanently if they were found dishing out fake news may have been rolled back but it has raised serious questions on how the government of the day views the fourth estate.
Many industry veterans saw in the circular a desire to rein in hardworking journalists who, despite the prevalent pro-government tone and tenor of a large section of mainstream media, continue to do honest work that often leads them to ask tough questions of an arrogant administration that has Prime Minister Narendra Modi at its helm.
The other disturbing aspect of the April 2 order was the almost random and knee-jerk manner in which it was declared by I&B minister Smriti Irani. Something as serious as a proposal to ban journalists, albeit on the pretext of fake news, was announced without any inter-ministerial dialogue or consultations with the stakeholders involved.
As the questions asked in Parliament reveal, the same government, till three weeks before releasing the circular, had told Parliament that it was absolutely not considering taking steps against fake news whether in Print, TV or social media.
Anyone familiar with how things work in the Modi establishment knows such a decision could not have been thought of and laid out in public overnight. What then led Smriti Irani to issue the circular? Your guess is as good as ours.